Lyons, Richard Bickerton Pemell (DNB00)

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LYONS, RICHARD BICKERTON PEMELL, second Baron and first Earl Lyons (1817–1887), diplomatist, elder son of Edmund Lyons, first baron Lyons [q. v.], by his wife Augusta Louisa, daughter of Captain Josias Rogers, R.N., was born at Lymington, Hampshire, on 26 April 1817. In 1829 he was serving as a midshipman on board his father's ship, H.M.S. Blonde (see Lord Albemarle, Fifty Years of my Life, ed. 1877, p. 343). He was then sent first to Winchester, afterwards to Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. in 1838, and M.A. in 1843. He entered the diplomatic service in February 1839 as unpaid attaché at Athens, where his father was minister, became paid attaché in October 1844, and in April 1852 was transferred to Dresden. In 1853 he was appointed to Florence, became secretary of that legation in 1856 with orders to reside at Rome, and envoy in 1858, and having recently, on 23 Nov. 1858, succeeded his father in the peerage, he was appointed British minister at Washington in December of the same year. His post, by no means an easy one on the eve of the civil war, when he was obliged to maintain a neutral attitude while indirectly he endeavoured to encourage a peaceful settlement of the questions between the north and south, became almost untenable in November 1861, when the seizure of Messrs. Slidell and Mason by the federal cruiser San Jacinto, on board the British mail steamer Trent, all but led to a declaration of war. Lyons took upon himself to avoid making a peremptory demand for redress, and awaited direct instructions from the foreign office. These instructions were explicit, that unless the United States government released the prisoners and tendered an apology within seven days, he was forthwith to leave Washington; but they were couched in moderate language, and were communicated with such tact by Lyons, that the American secretary of state, Mr. Seward, as he himself acknowledged, was most materially assisted in the difficult task of inducing his government to accede to the British demands (see Martin, Life of the Prince Consort, v. 425).

During the three following years Lyons was the medium of communication between the British and the American governments on the subjects of the declaration of Paris, the blockade of the confederate ports, the treaty of 7 April 1862 for the suppression of the slave trade, the case of the Alabama, and other difficult points. These long and intricate negotiations, added to the laborious duty of informing the foreign office as to the progress of the war, and advising upon the question of recognising the confederacy as independent, were so heavy that his health gave way, he was obliged to return to England, and at last, in February 1865, he was allowed to resign his post. In August of the same year he was appointed ambassador at Constantinople, and in July 1867 ambassador at Paris. This post he filled, and with a success no less than that of his predecessor, Earl Cowley, for twenty years. He was in the confidence of Napoleon III, and used every effort to avert war in 1870, short of pledging England to bring pressure to bear upon the king of Prussia on the question of the candidature of the Prince of Hohenzollern for the throne of Spain. After Sedan, and before Paris was invested, he arranged an interview, through Mr. Malet, secretary to the embassy, between Count Bismarck and M. Jules Favre, but no result followed from it. On the investment of Paris he was forced to seek a place of safety and of free communication with his government; but having taken his departure for Tours, and afterwards for Bordeaux, along with a portion of the provisional government, he was attacked in the House of Commons for so completely identifying himself with them. England, however, had already recognised the provisional government as the de facto government of France, and his conduct was entirely justified (see correspondence in Times, 6 March 1871). After the conclusion of the war he returned to Paris. In 1873 he negotiated the renewal of the commercial treaty of 1860. He received the queen on her visit to France in 1876, and in 1886, on the formation of the Salisbury administration, he was reported on good authority to have received the offer of the secretaryship for foreign affairs. He resigned his post in November 1887, and was succeeded by the Earl of Lytton. At the close of his life he was preparing to join the church of Rome, and although he was attacked by his last illness before being formally admitted, Dr. Butt, bishop of Southwell, administered to him extreme unction on his deathbed. He was seized with a stroke of paralysis while staying with his nephew, the Duke of Norfolk, at Norfolk House, St. James's Square, on 28 Nov., and died there on 5 Dec. 1887, and was buried at Arundel on 10 Dec. He had been made a K.C.B. in 1860, a G.C.B. in 1862, and was sworn of the privy council on 9 March 1865. In the same year he received the degree of honorary D.C.L. of Oxford. He was made a G.C.M.G. on 24 May 1879. In November 1881 he was created Viscount Lyons of Christchurch, Southampton, and in 1887 Earl Lyons, but he was unmarried, and the titles became extinct at his death.

[Times, 1 Nov., 6 Dec., and 10 Dec. 1887; Foreign Office List, 1887; Ann. Reg. 1887; Foreign Office Blue Books.]

J. A. H.